I had an awkward conversation with another lawyer the other day, in which he delivered a withering critique of my management style.
Lawyers typically don’t say “thank you” the way that you insist upon thanking everyone ad nauseam, he informed me.
I make it a point to express gratitude for a job well done, I said. I’ve found it makes people more willing to work with me in the future, or get something done faster. Also, I think it’s important to tell people when I genuinely appreciate something.
This lawyer went on to criticise my way of managing people and projects as if I hadn’t been in practice for nearly a decade; as if I hadn’t worked in a variety of capacities as an attorney — in-house; in private practice; as a legal secondee; so on/so forth.
For his part, his only legal experience was as a law firm attorney. He had never been in the business of managing anything other than his professional self. And maybe asking a junior associate for assistance, or requesting that his secretary book travel or do some wordprocessing.
All I am saying is that it’s unnecessary. Brevity is key. And then he smiled a smarmy, condescending smile: I find that good lawyers understand economy of language. Good lawyers can make fewer words work harder for them.
Was he calling me a bad lawyer? Was he saying that my verbosity was an impediment to my career? And how did saying “thanks for doing a great job” suddenly constitute too many words? I smiled tightly, and turned away from the conversation. It was a social setting; he and I didn’t work together in any capacity, and we were only the most casual of acquaintances.
But as I was walking away, I heard him say behind my back: I don’t know why she works so hard at trying to make people like her. She has a great ass, it’ll get her whatever she wants. She doesn’t even need to be smart!
I paused for a moment, unsure of whether to be extremely insulted or utterly amused. I decided I was both.
Then I walked away.
Later that night, he sent me an email — not one containing an apology, rather asking me out for a drink.
Needless to say, I didn’t bother with a reply. I didn’t even take a moment to thank him for noticing how hard I work for this ass.
As a lawyer, I suppose the important thing I have learned about managing others — and oneself — is knowing when to say “thank you.”
But the even more important thing is knowing when to say nothing at all.